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She was raising $2,600 so 100 girls could see 'Hidden Figures.' She just cleared $13,000.

'I figured this movie would be a good starting point to show girls that even when life gets hard, you have to keep going.'

She was raising $2,600 so 100 girls could see 'Hidden Figures.' She just cleared $13,000.

On Dec. 15, 2016, 13-year-old space enthusiast Taylor Richardson had the experience of a lifetime.

She saw a special screening of "Hidden Figures" at the White House alongside the cast of the movie, first lady Michelle Obama, and several NASA astronauts.

From left, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, and Kevin Costner. Photo by NASA/Aubrey Gemignani.


Not only was the biopic about Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan — three women who were the unsung heroes behind the first successful NASA missions into space — inspiring to Richardson on many levels, what hit home most for her was what Michelle Obama said about everything they were up against.

"These women couldn’t even drink from the same water fountain or use the same bathroom as many of their colleagues … and folks didn’t always take these women seriously because they were black and also because they were women," Obama explained that night.

The first lady also talked about how few women — and even fewer women of color — there are working in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields today.

The experience made Richardson want to do whatever she could to show girls that their STEM skills are not only welcome, but finally being celebrated.

"I've been to four space centers, and not once were these women and their contributions that impacted our space program mentioned," writes Richardson in an email.

Photo via Fox Movies.

She decided to start a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to offer 100 girls the chance to see "Hidden Figures" for free in the theater.

"I figured this movie would be a good starting point to show girls that even when life gets hard, you have to keep going," Richardson explains.

She included in her budget goal enough money for each girl to get a snack and a copy of the book on which the movie was based.

Literacy is very important to Richardson, who regularly collects gently used STEM books and donates them to schools and children in need. "I've donated over 3,000 books and read to over 250 kids in Jacksonville about STEM and space," Richardson says.

In just 18 days, she exceeded her goal of $2,600 five times over. That extra  money will go toward more screenings for girls who could use some STEM  inspiration right now.

Richardson with NASA astronaut Yvonne Cagle. Photo via Taylor Richardson.

Despite women's growing in STEM work and space exploration these days, there is still a major disparity of women of color in these fields. No doubt the lack of representation in the history books and, until recently, on screen has something to do with that.

While Richardson's idea to provide free movie screenings may seem small, her commitment to changing the game for women of color in STEM is not.

She's far from alone in seeing what the impact a movie like "Hidden Figures" can have on the next generation of girls.

There's a reason "Hidden Figures" has remained #1 at the box office for two weeks straight, beating out blockbusters like "Rogue One." Representation matters — for girls dreaming of being astronauts, women of color who have trouble finding role models, and anyone else who feels left out of history.

Hopefully, thanks to movies like "Hidden Figures," more and more girls will realize there is a place for them in STEM fields.

Richardson, whose goal is to be the first person to walk on Mars, offers some sound advice for girls on the fundraising page: "It's important that girls not only look at the stars but take the steps to reach for them."

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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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